Mike Wise: Painful to Hear, but Redskins Just Weren't as Good

By Mike Wise
Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This was the night Jim Zorn found out his team is not yet ornery or physical enough even to think about wresting the Giants from their throne, the night a national television audience and their NFL peers watching at home saw the truth:

In the most malicious-hitting affair of their season, a game that had all the violent properties of a Tennessee-Baltimore showdown, Zorn's players were forced to submit to a more menacing crew that grew angrier and more aggressive until Jason Campbell and his teammates were all but knocked out.

Steel-City Ruffians 23, Washington's Wanna-Be Tough Guys 6.

This was humbling for the very reason their 6-2 sprint out of the blocks was so inspiring. Like that start, no one saw this coming, this virtual beat-down at the hands of the second-best team in the AFC after the Titans.

Asked whether this was the most physical NFL game he had been involved in, Campbell, sacked seven times, nodded. Before he made his way to the postgame news conference, trudging slowly with an old-man gait, he said, "Without a doubt, that was the most physical."

"They put their safeties 25 yards back off the line," he added. "They took away the deep ball; they took away the deep ball, and then they still bring pressure along with it."

If anyone thought Washington's surprising start was due solely to Zorn's brilliant play-calling, Clinton Portis's rushing numbers or Campbell's deft touch and composure, they missed snapshots of the roundhouse rights traded between the Steelers, who practically invented the strap-it-up-and-hit-somebody culture in pro football, and Washington, which thought it knew what winning nasty was until they ran into Pittsburgh.

Campbell was under siege, sandwiched, mauled and illegally hit at least once in a helmet-to-helmet play. Never did he go down more painfully than when linebacker LaMarr Woodley wrapped the quarterback up and body-slammed him to the ground in the second half -- a defining play that had to remind some of the Steelers faithful of a similar moment. Woodley threw Campbell to the ground with the same kind of force a guy named Joe "Turkey" Jones once threw Terry Bradshaw to the ground, a sack that ended Bradshaw's season in 1976.

"I thought some of them were kind of over-exaggerated," he said, when asked if he felt some of the Steelers' hits were excessive. "Personally, I thought so. You know, a couple of hits to the head. But there's nothing you can do about it."

Campbell got up, but he was never steady again. Intercepted for the first time this season, outshined by Byron Leftwich, a former phenom now reduced to the role of backup, their once-proficient quarterback was unable to gain a rhythm on a humbling night all around.

The hard part to digest for Washington was that this was the kind of scrap the Redskins believed they could win, the kind of game they played better than Dallas and Philadelphia in impressive road wins that first month. After the Steelers went up 23-6 early in the fourth quarter, how long ago those victories seemed.

"The battle was there," Zorn said. "I didn't think our guys were cowering to how physical the game was. We were as physical, but with a defense like that we would have had to have been exact on everything. I don't think any group is going to be able to block that group every single play."

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